FAQ: What is the Speaker Curation Process?

By Ethan Alderson-Hughes - Co-Organiser of TEDxAuckland

A question that is regularly asked to us at TEDxAuckland is “how do you select your speakers?”.

It occurred to us at TEDxAkl that many people had the wrong idea about how much work was involved in the curation process. Now, with the 2018 event wrapped, I’d like to try explaining the process, which is more complicated than “we find ideas worth spreading”.

I first became part of the TEDxAkl team as a video editor, late December 2017. The 2017 event had just occurred, and as a recent graduate looking for projects to save myself from post-uni emptiness, I jumped at the opportunity to edit the talks. This meant watching them on repeat, and as a result, I became extraordinarily familiar with the final product of the speakers’ ideas, yet knew nothing of the process that lead to it. Watch the 2017 talks here.

When becoming a co-organiser of TEDxAuckland, I finally got insight into the selection process and what went into developing each idea into one that would suit the TEDx platform, and represent the ethos of TEDxAuckland accurately.

How the speakers were initially selected was varied, but all were chosen based on the same thing - their idea. Very rarely was it the one they first put forward.

Some people, like Andrew Barnes, Sarah Strong, and Daniel Gudsell, were selected from hundreds of detailed pitches sent to ideas@tedxauckland.com. Speaker team Elliott Blade, Georgina Robert, and Ah Shin Park reviewed each of these proposed ideas, then met with those who they felt may offer something totally unique and timely. 

This often happened over coffee (or a beer), and the idea was discussed further. No one was confirmed on the spot, and speakers that were eventually confirmed returned for several follow up meetings to develop their idea before a decision was finally made.    

Other people, like Pania Newton, Hemi Kelly, and Imche Fourie, the team personally reached out to after being made aware of the work they were doing in their communities. Once again, none of these speakers were confirmed on the spot, and subsequent meetings were had to dive deeper into their ideas, to focus and refine them.  

Then there were speakers, like Zeshan Qureshi and Pete Ceglinski, who were brought to our attention from past speakers or friends of TEDxAuckland, or were people that Elliott Blade had been talking to for a few years regarding getting them to present an idea. It just so happens that sometimes speakers don’t feel ready to present, and want to wait until they have the perfect idea to share on the platform. 

And that is only half of the work involved in the curation of the speakers. 

A big surprise from the entire process came from the many practise sessions we had leading up to the event. It was in this environment that speakers could come in, not only to practise their talks, but also workshop their ideas together.

What you had was a group of thought leaders and inspirational people, from multiple different communities, being put in the same room, listening to each other’s ideas.

I saw the speakers and the TEDxAkl team interact and converse with each other, and these interactions went on to greatly influence the final presentations. Friendships were formed, networks were created, and ideas continued to develop. With guidance from the rest of the TEDxAkl speaker team, advice and feedback was offered to each other, from performance tips, to restructuring and refining ideas.   

Watching the talks evolve was rewarding for everyone, and those experiencing it for the first time were surprised by the environment they had been brought into. It wasn’t clinical or rigidly managed like many speakers had expected. It was warm, friendly yet challenging, and became a space that nurtured transformative conversation and connection.

All up, the speaker curation process for 2018 took a few months, but I believe it will have an impact for years to come. Not just from those exposed to a the final ideas presented on the platform, but also for the individuals involved, as this was a learning experience that has left a positive impression on all of us.  

  • Image: Pania Newton listens to Richie Hardcore, Georgina Roberts, and Elliott Blade discuss her talk.